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Bows and Errors

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Clockwise from right: 1) She is gripping the bow like a pistol (and she will slap her wrist with the bowstring). Her hand should be at 45 degrees. 2) She is drawing across her body and will almost certainly hit her breast with the bowstring. 3) The bowstring should be drawn back to touch her nose or cheek. 4) Her elbow should be above her shoulder.

Katniss always pulls back her bowstring a good 10-15 seconds before she shoots. Now, I'm no expert on archery, but even I know this means either A): Katniss has muscles of pure titanium [...] or B): the draw weight on all of her bows has been so laughable her arrows should've been bouncing off anyone wearing thick clothing!

Most writers, unsurprisingly, are not practiced archers, and the pastime is rare enough in the modern day that consultants are not always easy to find. Add on 100+ years of Hollywood doing what it likes with any subject matter, and certain errors have become compounded to the point of being commonplace. Many of these are the result of ignorant creators assuming that familiar Guns and Gunplay Tropes can simply happen in exactly the same way with bows. Modern depictions, aided by CGI that is not tied to the real world in any way, often misrepresent both the best practices of archery and the physics involved.

Common mistakes (or bouts of artistic license) include:

  • Misrepresenting the draw strength of a bow. A good war bow can have a draw strength of around 150 pounds, the equivalent of lifting a small barbell every time you fire it. Rigorous physical training is needed even to use such a bow, regardless of accuracy.
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  • Misrepresenting the range and penetration of an arrow. The best historical longbow would have been able to shoot up to 400 yards, with a modern bow perhaps doubling that range. An arrow from a war bow could penetrate even modern body armor with luck, but not plate steel, and nothing could make it go all the way through a target, even an unarmored squishy human. Real arrows will also not stick in concrete and similar materials, although they might dent them. Loosing an arrow into concrete will damage the arrow at best and reflect it back at the archer (or a bystander) at worst.
  • Depictions of an arrow in flight will often show the shaft remaining straight. In reality, the shaft of an arrow flexes and wobbles while in flight, due to the stress imparted onto it by the bow.
  • Holding a bow at full draw for a significant period of time while threatening a target or taking aim. Muscles aren't meant to hold tension for a long time and will become shaky after a couple of seconds, decreasing accuracy or at worst accidentally loosing the arrow. The practice in real life is to aim, then draw immediately before firing.
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  • Lack of protective equipment. Archers in all time periods wore various gear to protect their hands and arms from the power of their own bows. Eye protection is also recommended.
  • Leaving a bow strung when not in use, or dry-firing it (i.e. without ammunition). Both of these can damage the bow.
  • Hanging the quiver on your back. Real archers generally have their quiver hanging by their side, usually opposite side from their dominant hand. Reaching behind your back to grab an arrow takes more time and is more tiring for your arm than taking one out of a hip-mounted quiver.
  • A common terminology has a work's narration say that people fire a bow as a back-formation from firearm terminology. The correct expression is to loose an arrow.
  • In illustrations, showing a fully-drawn bow shorter than its bowstring.

Errors or artistic licenses that have their own tropes:

  • Annoying Arrows: Archery generally being portrayed as less dangerous than it actually is.
  • Arrows on Fire: Flaming arrows have been used historically, but a lot less frequently than pyromaniacal filmmakers would have you believe.
  • Automatic Crossbows: Crossbows depicted as shooting multiple quarrels between reloading, like guns.
  • Bizarre and Improbable Ballistics: Arrows ricocheting or otherwise behaving in physically nonsensical ways.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Fictional archers often never run out of arrows, despite expending more than one person can feasibly carry and never being seen to resupply.
  • Human Pincushion: Even a single arrow is likely to debilitate a target. Continuing to fight with multiple lodged arrows is highly unlikely.
  • Lodged-Blade Recycling: Pulling out an arrow from one's body is extremely dangerous. Even if the victim is able to do so and remains able to fire a bow, the arrow will likely be damaged.
  • Multishot: Nocking mutliple arrows onto a bowstring to be fired at once. While this can be done, it drastically reduces the range and penetration of each arrow and is really only good for trick shots.
  • No "Arc" in "Archery": Arrows shown flying in a straight line, up to an arbitrary range.
  • Trick Arrow: These often have unaerodynamic shapes, such as a boxing glove.

See also Bows Versus Crossbows, a trope examining the differences between these two common weapons, and which often involves errors as a result. Compare Guns Do Not Work That Way.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Invoked in Gamaran right at the beginning of the final arc: Arata Nakaizumi, the group's archer, keeps Gama's opponent Tojo under aim with his bow and arrow for too long. When Tojo finally makes his move and Arata let the arrow loose, the shot is too weak and Tojo is able to deflect the arrow with ease.

    Film — Animated 
  • Brave: Justified. Considerable research was put into the bow and arrow physics, and when mistakes are present in how characters use bows these are intentionally there to show their lack of experience. Of note is the archery competition where the contestants make common mistakes in their form; Young MacGuffin has inadequate draw strength, Young Macintosh lets go of the drawstring with too much flourish, and Wee Dingwall pinches his arrow and would've missed if not for a lucky accident. They're followed by Merida who displays perfect form, and even draws attention to the tremendous strength needed to use a bow when she tears her dress to give herself the flexibility to draw.
  • Princess Mononoke: Ashitaka's curse gifts him with superhuman strength, and in battle this is frequently shown through his arrows hitting their targets with extreme force, one time going so far as rip the arms off his target. This ignores the fact that in archery the strength of the archer is only a factor in his or her ability to draw their bow and the power behind the arrow is imparted by the bow, not the archer. Regardless of how strong Ashitaka is, his arrow shouldn't hit with any more force than any other arrow shot from a comparable bow. (It would be theoretically possible for a character with Super Strength to wield a bow with an exceptionally large draw weight, but it would need to be specially designed and custom-made for the purpose.)

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Arrow: The Ultimate Weapon: The protagonist is an archer who can curve his arrows in flight. He does this by twisting the bowstring around the arrow before firing. This would absolutely not work in real life, but it's clearly an artistic license for Rule of Cool.
  • Hawk the Slayer: By means of rapid Jump Cuts to condense shots and edit out the process of reloading, Crow the elf and the human Gort use their medieval bow and crossbow, respectively, as rapid-fire machine gun-like weapons, mowing down scores of enemies with a stream of arrows and quarrels shot more like an automatic rifle's bullets than anything else.
  • The Hunger Games: Katniss can hold back the drawstring for far longer than anyone less than a bodybuilder could. It particularly sticks out seeing as she's a not-especially-muscular teenage girl, who even went through a period of malnourishment.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: During the Moria sequence, a CGI shot of one of Legolas' arrows shows the arrowhead moving along a perfect arc to the target, while the shaft and fletching dangle and shake behind it at random.
  • In Savaged, Zoe finds a recurve bow and quiver of arrows in a barn and takes it with her and uses it on her Roaring Rampage of Revenge. However, the bow had been stored strung and, according to its owner, had been in the barn for months. This would have ruined the tension in the bow and rendered it useless.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Arrow frequently treats bows as if they were interchangeable with both guns and swords.
    • It's not uncommon for the Green Arrow to fully draw an arrow and aim it at a bad guy for minutes at a time in the middle of a hostage exchange, all while he shows no strain from maintaining his position.
    • A unique error is portraying the bow as a deadly melee weapon. In most episodes, Oliver or one of the many other bowmen on the show will smack grown men with the ends of their bow and send them flying backwards and knocking them unconscious. While it's not impossible to use a bow as a melee weapon (what's a bow if not a big stick?), they are not remotely designed for this purpose and wouldn't be as effective as portrayed.
  • Cadfael has an archer threaten to "fire" an arrow, long before the development of gunpowder weapons added that expression to English.
  • Doctor Who: In the climax of "Robot of Sherwood", Robin Hood fires an arrow into a rising spaceship at least half a mile away. This would be impossible with a historical longbow, even if he were not using an arrow made of solid gold.
  • The Wheel of Time: Lampshaded in "The Dragon Reborn", when Rand and Mat attempt to sneak into a farmstead's barn to spend the night. The farmers threaten them with bows, and Rand points out that the husband has too many fingers on the bowstring. The trope is also played straight in that the farmer has the bow at full draw throughout the scene, and that throughout the season, Rand's own bow is only ever shown being strung, even when not in use.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: As part of the split between the Strength and Dexterity abilities in all editions, you need high Dexterity to shoot a bow with any effectiveness, whereas the Strength stat is not applied to bowshots. The exception is Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition and its derivative Pathfinder, where composite bows (implemented as a more expensive version of the shortbow and longbow) allow a character to add a portion of their Strength score to their damage.

    Video Games 
  • Archer features a Native American throwing arrows at birds with his bare hands.
  • Assassin's Creed III: Connor always has his quiver on his back, yet he can still pretty much instantly conjure arrows into his hands.
  • Dragon Age:
    • Archers are generally depicted with quivers on their backs in addition to having no protective gear whatsoever.
    • Dragon Age: Origins: In the Dalish origin, Mahariel and Tamlen have their bows drawn against some humans and hold an entire conversation with them like that.
    • Dragon Age II:
      • The "Hail of Arrows" archery talent lets the archer loose "an entire quiver" of arrows all at once.
      • One of Varric's Marksman abilities is "Rhyming Triplet", which has him fire three bolts at the same time. An upgrade has him fire five simultaneously.
      • Sebastian's introduction ends with him loosening an arrow to stick a paper to a pillar of concrete.
    • Dragon Age: Inquisition: At one point, Sera draws her bow against the Inquisitor. She holds it drawn for part of their conversation and then holds it half-drawn the rest of it.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Throughout the series, nearly all of the "common mistakes" listed are present. Bows can be held indefinitely at full draw without consequence. The arrows remain perfectly straight in flight as well. All bows are found strung, even when explicitly in storage like in a shop. Most bows are also depicted being too short. In Morrowind, for example, even explicit "long bows" are barely longer than a longsword and much shorter than real life versions.
    • Oblivion and Skyrim add a physics engine and display more equipment (averting the Informed Equipment of previous entries), violating more "common mistakes". Arrows will now "stick" in most surface, including unrealistic ones like metal shields or in bodies through plate armor. They can also be recovered and reused even after striking surfaces like stone which will easily break real life arrows. Quivers are worn exclusively on the back.
  • Fable I: The Hero can hold a bow at full draw indefinitely, and benefits from doing so to line up a shot, as bows function as a Charged Attack. Downplayed as this does make their aim start to jitter, but this disadvantage can reduced almost to nothing with Skill training.
  • Final Fantasy XIV: Bows are always holstered while strung up and quivers worn on one's back rather than one's side. In addition, several attacks involve the use of Multishot to hit a wider area or fire multiple homing arrows at once, though these are justified by the use of magic in tandem with archery.
  • Genshin Impact: Childe's technique when using a bow makes one question how it's even remotely possible for him to hit anything, as stands hunched over with his bow held awkwardly and the string drawn only partway back. It may be a case of Gameplay and Story Integration, as Childe mentions he uses bows specifically because he's weakest at them, and the other archers in the game have better form.
  • Horizon Zero Dawn:
    • Aloy typically has her bow strung at all times, and she can hold it at full draw for an indefinite length of time.
    • The capabilities of bows in general are highly exaggerated; this is partly Acceptable Breaks from Reality since realistic bow physics would be less fun, and also hand-waved by the presence of scavenged advanced machinery in the setting that justifies the creation of both specialized ammo and absurdly powerful bows.
    • A detail created more by a quirk of the combat system than deliberate design is that the mechanic that creates a Bullet Time effect anytime Aloy is in midair means that the most effective way to aim a shot is to draw and then jump straight upward while aiming. This would not be effective technique in real life.
  • Mount & Blade: The commander of the watch insists on the common error of leaving a crossbow strung when not in active use (especially during rain), claims that unstringing it is a dereliction of duty, and has Bunduk horsewhipped. Later, Bunduk deserts his post and gets drunk in a tavern using money stolen from the commander, before being recruitable by the player.
  • Resident Evil 2: In the original version, the crossbow fires a spreading "burst" of three bolts at once, and at one point gun store owner Robert Kendo cocks it like a shotgun.
  • Warframe makes a few common mistakes with its bows, but all of them are justified by virtue of the eponymous Warframes not being normal humans but a sort of superhuman organic technology. They draw even massive war bows easily and quickly, and can hold the draw forever because they have astounding strength and tireless stamina. Literally armored skin precludes the need for bracers, gloves, and other protective equipment. Quivers are all placed on the back to avoid interfering with the movement of the legs during parkour, and because the Warframes won't tire from over-shoulder drawing. The sheer draw strength of the weapons plus the highly advanced construction of the arrows allow Tenno to bury arrows in almost any surface, and sometimes put arrows through multiple armored opponents.

  • The Order of the Stick: Haley, the party's rogue, is typically depicted as keeping her bow strung at all times, even when it's kept slung across her back and not in use.

    Web Video 
  • Critical Role: Campaign One: Vex'ahlia is a legendary archer capable of such feats as piercing plate armor and bulletproof dragon hides with her arrows. This is despite being pitifully weak (because of her in-game Strength score of 7 out of 20), to the point even a furious punch to the jaw from her causes 0 damage and is Played for Laughs. Drawing some of Vex's massive bows would probably be a challenge for someone so weak, but the whole show is a game that would suffer from being bogged down in minutiae like that, so the issue never comes up. Enforced due to the way Dungeons & Dragons traditionally handles ranged weapons; only the character's Dexterity score matters, not their Strength.